Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on one of our Baen author friends, Tim Powers! Tim Powers is the author of fifteen novels, including The Anubis Gates, Last Call and On Stranger Tides, which was the basis of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. He has twice won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and three times won the World Fantasy Award. He lives in San Bernardino, California, with his wife, Serena. Tim’s latest release, Alternate Routes, just came out this August—so come and look for it on our shelves!
Thank you so much for joining us, Tim! For our readers and friends who aren’t as familiar with you or your work, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
Ever since I was eleven, when my mother got me a copy of Heinlein’s Red Planet — and then when I was twelve, and I discovered H. P. Lovecraft — I’ve never wanted to do anything professionally but write science fiction and fantasy. And aside from various part-time jobs, I never have. These days I read at least as much mystery-and-crime — Dick Francis, Michael Connelly, always Raymond Chandler — as I do science fiction and fantasy, but I can’t think up any plots that aren’t SF/F!
How would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your work?
I write supernatural adventure stories, and I guess my models in the genre are writers like Theodore Sturgeon (as in More Than Human or The Dreaming Jewels), Fritz Leiber(as in Our Lady of Darkness) and H. P. Lovecraft (as in The Dunwich Horror or The Shadow Over Innsmouth). I try to make it as clear as possible that the stories are happening in the real world — the same world the reader lives in.
What kind of research went into writing Alternate Routes? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I had to research Greek mythology, and then Greek and Cretan history — and then I had to research recruitment and routines of the Secret Service! I guess one interesting thing I found out was that there has to be a Secret Service agent posted at every rest room along the route of a Presidential motorcade, in case the President should want to stop for a bathroom break.
What was the inspiration for Alternate Routes? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
Everybody knows that Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of string to unwind as he made his way into the Labyrinth to kill the Minotaur — but the earliest Greek representations of the Labyrinth show it as unicursal, without branchings or forks. So why did he need a string? To figure that out, I had to figure out what the Labyrinth really consisted of, and what sorts of things a string might be.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I love stories that take me through situations that are imaginable, but not actually possible — I love to see believable characters dealing with ghosts, or time-travel, or faster-than-light space travel — and so I write that sort of thing. And I’m confident that readers, too, like fiction that takes them sideways right out of mundane reality.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Read constantly, and in all areas — fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry — and don’t stick to post-1900 stuff. And don’t read the old stuff through your 2018-attiude lenses! Don’t be chrono-chauvinist! Read it on its own terms, as readers of the time would have. And of course write constantly too.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Right now I’m in the middle of a sequel to Alternate Routes — there’s plenty more implicit weirdness in Los Angeles than I managed to touch on in that book!
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
My office is a narrow room that I think some previous owner wanted to make into a bathroom — there are holes in one wall as if for pipes. And it’s filled by my desk and file cabinets, and the walls and half of the window are completely filled with bookshelves. The room is generally a mess, largely due to cats throwing things around, but I make it an ironclad rule that no research book can ever leave the room — that way I always know that a book I need is within four feet of me, even though it might take some digging to find it.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
Because of being friends with Tom McEvoy, a winner of the World Series of Poker, I was able to do a signing of my book Last Call at a vacated table in the middle of the 1992 WSOP — I got to give a copy of my book to Doyle Brunson! And Johnny Moss, the Grand Old Man of Poker, walked past my table and looked at me and said to somebody, “What the hell does he know about Poker?” — which is like having Einstein look at you and say, “What the hell does he know about physics?” I mean, who’d imagine such people would ever have occasion to ask?
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
We’ve got a lot of cats, and there’s always a kitten or two on my lap or on the desk or on the keyboard. They help by pushing books off the desk and deleting passages of whatever I’m writing that they evidently think are no good.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
Inevitably there comes a point in the middle of writing a novel — at least for me! — when you are suddenly absolutely convinced that the whole project is worthless in every way, and that you’d have spent your time better if you’d devoted all those months of work to just making sculptures with toothpicks. I have to remind myself that this has occurred in the middle of writing every book, and it has turned out not to be true, and the odds are that it’s not true this time either.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
I would like to think wherever books are sold!
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
Facebook page, and post in it fairly frequently and check it a lot!
Thank you very much for the great interview, Tim! We’re happy to have our hands on your latest book, Alternate Routes, and we look forward to sharing it with our friends and customers!